When I wake, I stretch my legs to my right and plant my feet squarely on the aluminum wall. It's a strange habit to have, but there it is. I gauge the temperature outside pretty quickly this way, if it's not already apparent in the Airstream itself (it usually is). The inch and a half gap between the interior and exterior skins, though insulated, is still only an inch and a half gap sandwiched between thin sheets of aluminum. I have felt it icy, the same as I have felt it baking. 

Louise in Wyoming. Breathtaking boondocking site. July 2015. Most insane mosquitos I've ever experienced - but there were just as many wildflowers, so it evened out. 

Louise in Wyoming. Breathtaking boondocking site. July 2015. Most insane mosquitos I've ever experienced - but there were just as many wildflowers, so it evened out. 

Yesterday, between the hours of 11:30-4:30pm, when the sun rose overhead and temperatures climbed from 93 (early morning) to 105 (midday), our AC tripped the breaker, per the usual. After a couple resets, I gave up and peeled off my clothes and plunked my kid in the shower and ran cool water over her and then myself. 

Our current living situation is unlike other travelers in that we are in one set and predetermined location for our renovation jobs. We arrived mid-February and will finish the job in mid-to-late July, when temperatures in southern Arizona will climb to 120. We are parked in full-sun with no shade trees available, and do not have the ability to move on simply because the weather isn't to our liking (like other travelers can) until we finish our job. 

While in some regards it is easier to be stationary (hookups!), we are at the mercy of our location until the job is done, which means we have to lean into the discomfort. There is discomfort on the road too, and that's what I'm slowly getting around to: 

This lifestyle was never about being comfortable. 

It's a strange thing to be a designer of caravan interiors sometimes, as my job is to create spaces that ultimately look far more comfortable than they actually are. When building, we also incorporate function for comfort and ease. Locking mechanisms on drawers to stay closed in transit, 12v pumps for water when off-grid. Yet no matter how stunning the interior, no matter how plush and luxurious it may seem: the facts remain. This is still a camper, it will still be hauled down the road and the insides will be shaken up like boots in a dryer. 

Hot springs off Highway 395, summer 2017 with June. Sites like this one are accessed via washboard roads and don't have hookups. Just the way we like it. 

Hot springs off Highway 395, summer 2017 with June. Sites like this one are accessed via washboard roads and don't have hookups. Just the way we like it. 

Though we live in an Airstream, albeit an unfinished one, and we have what a lot of folks would consider bells and whistles, we are still living in a trailer on wheels that comes with limitation and discomfort.

It's part of the package. We knew what we were signing up for.

As we have learned more about ourselves and living tiny, we've upgraded our space quite a lot from our first Airstream, which was more like #vanlife in it's rudimentary amenity. We had a bucket and water jug for a toilet, one small sink in the kitchen, curtains to divide the spaces, and converting beds. We didn't have an oven, refrigerator, hot water, or heat/air-conditioning. 

What we had instead were basics. The elements we needed to provide shelter and exist as a family. Our must-haves were different then: 

  • Ellen wanted to be able to stand up (she's 5'9"). 
  • I wanted to be able to use the toilet in my own home, because public bathrooms creep me out and if we're being totally honest, my belly is SO sensitive and I want to be able to get sick privately. 
  • We both wanted a separate bed from our daughter, who might be the most violent sleeper there ever was. You'll lose an eye sleeping next to her.
  • We chose a trailer as opposed to a small RV/bus/van so our daughter could be safely in a car seat in a truck and we could detach our home to go off road exploring. 

That was it. 

Those were our requirements when we built out Louise four years ago, for who we were at the time and what are our needs were then. Our budget played a huge role as well, we couldn't afford appliances, and got on the road without them with the hopes we could install them over time. 

As our family expanded (we have not one, but two lab rescues now), and our daughter grew up, and we opened our business, our needs changed. We needed different things on board, as well as more space. Our business keeps us crazy busy - we're in the second quarter of year two - so we wanted to add some elements and amenities to cut down on time spent on daily chores so we could grasp at what precious little time there is to just BE. Here are some of the reasons we sold our second Airstream build, June, which we only lived in for seven months, and decided to live in a 1994 Airstream while we renovated it (outside of being crazy people, that's a given):

What our Airstream looked like the day we moved in. 

What our Airstream looked like the day we moved in. 

  • Our daughter is 8.5 and we don't see giving up living in an Airstream any time soon. She has already started craving more space and privacy, and the pre-teen years are just around the corner. She wasn't a fan of having to convert the dining table into her bed every night. She loves lounging in bed with a good book in the morning, so we didn't have a space to sit with our coffee or laptops for our morning work meetings if the weather wasn't great outside. Having a separate space for her bed and our dinette will allow us to keep living in an Airstream as our daughter grows up.
  • We have a ventless washer/dryer unit on board. Is this a luxury? Absolutely. Yet our reasoning for buying one was absolutely practical. We renovate Airstreams for a living and contrary to what some people (okay, mostly men who send us shitty emails) think, we do ALL the work ourselves. Which means we're often covered in polish and oxidization residue, grease, dirt, grime, etc., AND we live in 213 square feet of Airstream with very little space to store clothing, which includes options to wear while working, AND work 12 hour days because we're a new business and there's only two of us doing everything that's gotta be done for business and life. We have very little family time or self care time, so you bet your sweet ass that not having to drag our laundry to the laundromat multiple times a week has helped us get some precious family time back. Instead of someone or all of us sitting at a laundromat for hours, we pop a load into the unit every couple of days before we go to bed and wake to clean clothes. This has given us evenings and weekends back to be together as a family. 
  • We have a shower and a hot water heater. Same reasons as above. This work is DIRTY. When we're not renovating, we're happy as clams to go without showers for long stretches of time (our record is fifteen days while in Alaska three summers ago). Grease is different than dirt. 
  • We have a private bedroom with a door. Does this one really need to be explained?
  • Our fridge runs off DC and AC power and will keep our food cold while in transit. It's 8.1 cubic feet, has a separate freezer, and we are able to go grocery shopping for longer stretches of time (one to two weeks instead of every couple days). Once again...we are busy. For those of you that have done Airstream renovations, imagine condensing it into 3-5 months and then add in running a business on top of it...and then add in renovating another Airstream on top of that. We are all about finding time wherever we can so we can feel like humans (not robot builders, which is how we feel most of the time). 
  • Last but not least, our Airstream isn't just our home. It's our mobile on-site office. We have clients come inside for ordering, for explaining how things work, as a showroom, etc. I have a desk that is separate from where we eat and where we sleep so my laptop is always out and available. The desk cabinet holds samples for client project designs, files, receipts, sketchbooks, business cards, etc. Having a designated space from which to run our business has changed the way our business runs. It's become much more efficient to have everything accessible and in one place...all the time. 

Yet that doesn't mean we're without discomfort. Once again, you could have every luxury on board and you're still living in a vehicle/trailer. There are still limitations to what you can do that are bound by the confines of your camper. Campers, in and of themselves, are supposed to blur the line between indoors and outdoors.

There will be dust and dirt in every nook and cranny. I dust off my desk and laptop every single day before I sit down to work. In hot temperatures, though the AC is on (we do not have a heat source, by the way, outside of cheap electric space heaters, and try to avoid cold temperatures like the plague) and the thermostat is set to 72, the inside temperature is still 90+. As I write this, the breaker tripped again and the temperature inside is a wonderfully stagnant 105. The single pane windows and 1.5" thick aluminum walls don't do much to block the scorching sun in Arizona in May (Reflectix in the windows and skylights, along with extending all the awnings and keeping the rock guard down on the front panoramic windows does help some). When we go to shower, we have to run the water for about 15 minutes to get the scalding hot hose water out first, or wait until late at night to grab showers when the hose water has finally cooled. Why write all of this? I'm not complaining, I'm sharing the truth about what it's like to live this way: quite simply, it asks of us to continue to live and thrive amidst uncomfortable circumstances and situations. 

4Runner buildout. Slept at a KOA in Missouri as we hightailed toward the sunshine out West. We like KOAs when we're in a hurry to get somewhere because they're right off the highway and have nice showers in heated or cooled bathrooms. Also, this was our first night with this setup and it did not remain this clean or tidy. 

4Runner buildout. Slept at a KOA in Missouri as we hightailed toward the sunshine out West. We like KOAs when we're in a hurry to get somewhere because they're right off the highway and have nice showers in heated or cooled bathrooms. Also, this was our first night with this setup and it did not remain this clean or tidy. 

A few years ago, we traveled/lived out of the back of our 4Runner (we've actually done this twice). We just wanted to be on the road again, and took off and zipped west as fast as we could. We built out the back of the 4Runner with a couple pieces of plywood, creating a platform for a bed up top, with storage underneath for a "kitchen". We installed drawer runners on a piece of plywood to pull out and create a counter, since we knew we'd largely be boondocking and wanted a place for food prep. 

Over the course of those weeks living out of the back of our small SUV, we realized for certain that traveling in that small of a vehicle really wasn't for us. We'd tossed around the idea of a van occasionally in the past, but it's just really not for our family. If I was single? I'd totally do it. 

The trip we took in the 4Runner was a few years ago when our daughter was a lot smaller (though still a violent sleeper), and we brought our then one dog, who is older and calm (we now have a 1.5 year old pup). We were able to leave our cat at home with a friend, but we travel with him now and his litter box is tucked away under our bed. Though I was able to dig a hole and shit in it with the best of 'em, and was able to prepare meals on the plywood, and able to (sorta) sleep at night and had no qualms about changing clothes outside (even in 25 degrees), it wasn't my preference. I was much more comfortable and able to feel like my best self with more space. My introversion, my ability to focus on my work, my desire for privacy...all of these things add up to wanting a bit more space, not to mention the reasons listed above. 

I like the ability to compare and contrast the different experiences we've had, because I don't see that many differences between living out of the back of an SUV and living in a 213 square foot Airstream. Oh, they are certainly there. Instead of peeing on the ground or into a water bottle, I instead pee into a composting toilet urine bucket that we then have to go dump once a day (mmm...urine scents). Instead of sleeping in a 52" wide bed with my head a few inches from the ceiling with a 55-pound dog and a kid and 5'9" woman, I sleep with a 70-pound dog and cat and 5''9" woman in a 60" bed and I don't hyperventilate at the claustrophobic feeling and sometimes sleep through the night (until the dog kicks me in the head). I still get outside and want to be outside, even with more space and "luxury". We don't sit inside all the time just because we have more space to do so. 

Everything is always dirty, just the same as it was in the back of the SUV. I pull out clothes from the bin under the bed and they're covered in dust. So while this may seem like luxury to some, Pinterest worthy or not, it's still a camper that is meant to blur the line between indoors and outdoors. It still means sacrifice, one which we make willingly (gotta bold that word, because someone inevitably will think I'm complaining about my life, when I'm actually so fucking grateful for it). It means discomfort. Choosing this life means choosing inconvenience. It means things won't work all the time. If you renovate yourself, or even have someone do it for you, the work doesn't end once you move in. It is continual. You can have the dreamiest, most Pinterest-worthy home on wheels, but it's still a camper, meant to blur those lines and get you outside. The air and the dirt will get in, so you get out and actually breathe it in and sink your feet into the earth. 

It really doesn't matter how luxurious you make your rig out to be. The whole point is to shake things up and challenge yourself, to live outside of expectation, to work to keep the dream of living on the road alive. So while our home may seem dreamy and luxurious or ostentatious to some, let me be the first to say...we're very much happily blurring the line between indoors and outdoors, accepting discomfort, fixing broken shit, peeing in a container, and we're hot when it's hot, cold when it's cold, and willingly making the sacrifices necessary to live tiny, to be mobile, to work for ourselves, and to live for ourselves.  

Internet on the Road

Photo Apr 19, 9 46 24 AM.jpg

This isn't a new topic, and plenty of folks out there cover this in much greater detail (Technomadia being the best we've found, bar none), but it's something we're asked a lot. After all, we do have to have internet for our business! Though a good bulk of our days are devoted to the renovation work itself, there are many facets of our business that are done on the laptop, and most of it is done online: marketing, social media, client contact, booking, scheduling, blogging...the list goes on. 

We may be the worst people to be talking about anything technology related. In fact, talk to our eight-year-old, she just taught me how to use a function on my iPhone the other day. I didn't even know it was there. Yet we do manage, and we have a philosophy that we find translates well for our lives, on the road and off: "live with what you need and nothing more". It's the reason we don't drive a bigger truck than what we need to safely haul, why our builds are simple and straightforward and packed with function but not excess (and no TV's!), and why we have one laptop, one iPad, and two phones in our household (minus our daughter's "Daddy-phone", which she uses to communicate with my ex-husband, Brian). We practice this simple philosophy and find it serves us well. It helps us live with less and if we need to upgrade or add on, we'll know it. We start with little and then fill in the gaps. 

For internet, we got a family phone plan through AT&T. Ellen and I were not on the same phone plan but both used AT&T as our carrier, and wanted to keep the phone numbers we've had since high school (which is longer than you'd think, we're no spring chickens) until we got back on the road last year. We combined our phones into one plan and then added two more lines: one for our daughter, and one for our hotspot. It took a long-ass time at the AT&T store, though they got us all squared away and we've not had a single issue since. 

Though our phones also act as hotspots, we don't prefer to use them. The connection between the laptop/iPad and the phone drops if not in use, and it can be really aggravating to be writing an email or building a webpage to look away for thirty seconds and have lost the connection. A lost connection often means an unsaved bulk of work, which as we all know, is stressful and annoying, especially when you're busy as hell, which is my daily burden. 

Our MiFi device was one cent when we bought it, so that was a no brainer, and we keep it plugged in always so we don't lose internet. It really does act the same as a wireless router in a house that way, and we can hop on and hop off the web as we need. We do pay for unlimited data, and though there is the caution of a slow-down when you've reached 22 GB before the end of the monthly billing cycle, we've not really noticed much of a difference, and that's with me being online at least eight hours a day working and then falling asleep to Netflix every night (The Office, usually...I've lost count of how many times I've rewatched the best show in the world). 

As far as coverage goes, we don't really have anything to compare it to, though we've heard Verizon has more coverage, we've never had an issue with AT&T, even when traveling consistently (i.e., not parked in one location for a five month renovation job). If we don't have internet, we see it as a nice reminder to not work 'round the clock, read a book, play a little music, get outside. Oh, darn. 

The Modern Caravan

It is possible to lose sight of your roots, to let go of the reasons, and in order to not let emotions get in the way of running a business, you focus and hone in on the tasks. The monotony, the smart decisions, the buckling down, the detachment. These things are proven to work. As they say, business isn’t personal. 

But maybe that shouldn’t pertain to everyone. Maybe that's not for businesses like ours. 

We took a five day vacation after our Austin job (Isla), and spent some of the time while there getting marriage counseling and going on dates. We'd worked so much that we'd not been able to spend time as a couple or as a family while in Texas. We didn't want to lose our love and have been working every day since this trip to choose loving one another and remembering who we are. 

We took a five day vacation after our Austin job (Isla), and spent some of the time while there getting marriage counseling and going on dates. We'd worked so much that we'd not been able to spend time as a couple or as a family while in Texas. We didn't want to lose our love and have been working every day since this trip to choose loving one another and remembering who we are. 

The Modern Caravan, as a name, can be broken down by definition:

mod·ern | adjective
  1.     relating to the present or recent times as opposed to the remote past  "the pace of modern life”
car·a·van | kerəˌvan/ | noun
  1. a vehicle equipped for living in, typically towed by a car and used for vacations.
  2. a group of people, especially traders or pilgrims, traveling together

Though there are more expansive definitions, these are the most relevant to why we decided to name our story and work. Adding ‘the’ to the beginning was simple: we are defining the current full-time traveler. When we’re referred to as ‘Modern Caravan’, I cringe. That’s not our name. It relegates us to simply ‘the renovator’, the maker of the caravans, not who we are as a whole. We are more than Airstream renovators. 

First official day on the road, curbside camping in front of our wedding photographer's bungalow in Cincinnati. We were so happy. All our hard work and sacrifice  had paid off, and we were going. We'd not even gone a few hours away from our old house and town and we felt so free! 

First official day on the road, curbside camping in front of our wedding photographer's bungalow in Cincinnati. We were so happy. All our hard work and sacrifice  had paid off, and we were going. We'd not even gone a few hours away from our old house and town and we felt so free! 

Just four years ago, when we made the decision to travel and began to wholeheartedly work toward that goal, it wasn’t as commonplace to travel full-time as it has become in such a short amount of time. So much so that when we told friends and family, the majority of them thought we were crazy, not inspired. It wasn’t interesting, what we were doing, it was absolutely insane to give up our comfortable home and job security for the unknown. Yet now, the new travelers who are on the road or getting ready to be were inspired by someone else already doing it. It’s easier to get on the road now, because it’s not seen as crazy, alternative, or radical. It’s seen as inspirational, beautiful, dreamy, aspirational. It's accepted, and normal. The name of our business was inspired by this shift in thinking, in the acceptance of this way of life being another way of living (modern), no longer relegated to only gypsies or hobos (caravan). 

We are travelers, first and foremost. Though our business as you may know it has only been around for fifteen months, our story as travelers began four years and three months ago. Our story as a couple started six years ago. Our story overall started as college freshman, thirteen years ago. We are more than builder and designer. We are more than beautiful interiors and vintage Airstreams, or a pretty Instagram, we're more than our follower count, we are more than just a brand. This work started from an honest and vulnerable place. This isn’t a ploy for a bigger following, notoriety, popularity, or sponsorship, though we see so many playing that game now. It isn’t about financial success. We grew this business from our lives and our hearts and our circumstances, and though it may look one way from the outside, we can assure you, on the other side of the screen, there are two hard-working people who are doing their taxes and wondering how the fuck we got food on the table this past year, and why we’re pulling eighty-hour work weeks to not cut ourselves salaries and give other people their dreams while our dreams and goals sit on the sidelines, waiting (im)patiently to be given due time and love.

The definition of success:

suc·cess | noun
  1. noun: success; plural noun: successes the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. "the president had some success in restoring confidence"
  2. the attainment of popularity or profit."the success of his play"    
  3. a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity."I must make a success of my business"

The all-encompassing definition of success is an accomplishment of an aim or purpose. The secondary definitions are the ones we're not interested in, but are given so much importance. We are told we have to keep renovating, because we’re good at it, because we’re such a success, because we're Insta-famous (what?). 

But what about our definition of success? What about our aim, our purpose? What about the things beyond the work and all that is seen from the outside? What if our passion lies outside of prosperity, affluence, profits, popularity? What if, instead of being only defined as successful by what we do, and how popular it is, we are defined instead as successful because we put love first? What might that look like for us, and many others, if success was defined by the love we had for one another? What if instead of defining our success by being popular Airstream renovators, you saw us instead as wonderful, invested parents to our daughter, ones not so painstakingly preoccupied by the work and the goals of others? What if you defined success by two women who have to defend their love, their life, their work, their family, who have a story so complicated because life has given them a beating again and again and they still manage to get through, they make it, they still love one another deeply and choose one another, choose their family, above all, every day? 

What has been lost is where all of this began. Separately, what has been lost in translation is the meaning, the story, the reasons for any of it. 

We’ve been so busy with the work of making others’ dreams come true that we have lost our own. We nearly lost our marriage this past winter because the demands of others were so great, that all we could do was work our fingers to the bone. The only time we had to speak to one another was about work, and work alone. Marriages need more than that. This isn't a business partnership, Ellen and I. We're real. We love one another deeply and thank goodness for that, because that was enough to save what we were losing. 

We let it happen because we had no choice. It was do or die.

Do or no food on the table at all. 

What you see on the outside is a far fucking cry from what it’s like to be in it. 

There will be those of you who are scoffing at this truth and sincere vulnerability we’re sharing with you. There will be those of you who will call us ungrateful. Those of you who do are the folks are up in the cheap seats, hurling mean-spirited criticisms and put downs from a safe distance, from behind your screens and/or if you know us, from behind the illusion you’ve crafted of what our life actually is. 

“For me, if you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” | Brene Brown

Are you down here with us? Are you putting in the work? Do you really know what we’ve gone through to make that Airstream look so beautiful? Do you really get it? Were you there? Were you pulling those late nights? Were you sacrificing your health, your family, your marriage, time with your child, time with your parents and siblings and friends and nephew, your dreams, your time, your very life? 

Do you know why we travel to our renovation work? Why our business isn’t like other businesses in this niche market? 

It’s to be on the road at all, even just a little. It’s to have a tiny little bit of who we are. It’s to breathe in deep and see the mountains out the window. It is to be in that place where you’re so far west that the sky just opens up and you’re hours and miles from where the land meets the sea but it’s there, and you’re closer to it, and the sunsets are so big and bold and beautiful because of it. 

There’s more to every story than what you see on the outside. You can keep telling us how good we have it, and we’ll keep on trudging through to the other side, knowing the truth.

This is beyond sustainability, profit, and the definitions of success held by so many. 

If this business is going to continue, it will be on our terms. Then again, maybe we’ll walk away from it all, and either way, we’ll just get to be those people who aren’t living to work, but working to live, and who are out really living and dancing and smiling and loving in those big and bold and beautiful sunsets.

Because try as we might, we just can’t accept the definition of success we’re told we should have. It’s not who we are. We don’t see the point. It’s a goddamn waste of a life.